A Feminist Response to Valerie Hudson

Valerie Hudson Cassler’s recent defense of heterosexual-only marriage offers a heteronormative account of human relationships that pits (heterosexual) women against homosexuals, where “the possibility of human freedom and peace” hang in the balance.[1] However, Hudson’s article suffers from the typical problems of heteronormative feminism, which as been critiqued since the 1980’s in American feminist circles,[2] not only because it denies the label of “woman” to the lesbian, but also because it restricts the possibility of women’s freedom as lying exclusively in the realm of heterosexual, reproductive relationships.

I would like to examine Hudson’s claims on alternative feminist grounds, critiquing not only her implicit gender essentialism which imagines women’s freedom as only possible within reproductive relationships, but her impoverished view of “gender equality.” Further, I intend to examine Hudson’s statist view of marriage which conceives of state power over marriage having the explicit goal of encouraging marriages which it deems to be in its interest.

At the outset, let me say that I am immensely appreciative of Hudson’s work for engaging this topic in a scholarly manner and raising the level of discourse about same-sex marriage. One can appreciate Hudson’s implicit critique of LDS discourse such as that in the “Divine Institution of Marriage,” which bases its argument on the raising of children, an argument I have made as well. Not only has Hudson argued that same-sex couples should be allowed and given state sanction for providing care for their children, but also that “those who base their defense of heterosexual marriage on the basis of its easier and more natural procreative potential are off the mark.” Such arguments and clear thinking are necessary to take the conversation forward.

Hudson’s Feminism

Hudson laments that opponents of SSM concede too quickly that there are “no good, public, non-religious reasons for the state to privilege heterosexual monogamous marriage above any other type of relationship, including homosexual unions.” She intends to offer just such an argument by suggesting that,

“The gender arrangements privileged by the state determine its potential for democracy, peace, and gender equality. There is only one form of gender arrangement–companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage—that provides the sustainable foundation for these public goods. The state will be harmed if it fails to privilege the only gender arrangement that promotes such profound public benefits.”

The goal of peace and democracy hangs on the achievement of the intermediate goal of “gender equality.” Yet, it is precisely the confusion around what is meant by “gender equality,” both as a composite term as well as separate terms, that causes trouble for this argument.

As she lays the foundation of her argument, Hudson offers no distinction between “sex” and “gender,” eliding the two apparently interchangeably. She offers a definition of sexual difference: “Here, by sex we mean the innate ability to be a physical, biological father or mother as encoded in DNA of XX or XY components.” This definition is deceptive because it actually offers two different definitions, one with respect to DNA and another with respect to biological possibilities of producing offspring. This sleight of hand is significant because she will move back and forth between these two definitions as it suits her argument.

This slippage of these two definitions of “sex” between reproductive capabilities and DNA is significant. Inasmuch as many lack the reproductive capabilities of “male” and “female” despite having unambiguous DNA, external genitalia, and gonads, the ability to reproduce is an insufficient marker for sexual difference.[3] Nevertheless, Hudson repeatedly suggests that the most signficant interaction between the sexes is in the sphere of reproduction. Not only does a definition of sexual difference that relies on reproduction exclude children and the elderly as fully “sexed” human beings, as well as those with congenital reproductive defects, but also includes those who have been suffered disease or accident that has rendered them incapable of reproduction as no longer “male” and “female.” This exclusionary definition of maleness and femaleness simply falls short.

If, however, Hudson relies on DNA as the marker of sexual difference, reproduction and the realm of the reproductive economy lose the central space that she wants to put them for thinking about the interaction between the sexes.

In laying out her theory of human interaction, Hudson offers theories of “evolutionary biology” to account for human society. Working from this evolutionary perspective, which seeks biological and social explanations for contemporary social phenomena. She describes a kind “evolution marriage” which subjugates women, typical of pre-modern societies. Here, Hudson’s argument at the outset renders invisible homosexuality. In the evolutionary terms that she lays out, there is no etiology for homosexuality since she only conceives of the sexual economy as reproductive.

Hudson’s research relies on a set of new journalistic books that advances the thesis that societies with gender equality are more peaceful.[4] The books suffer from the characteristic inability of evolutionary theories to explain complex social phenomena by reducing human desires to the fight for survival and the desire to reproduce. Scientists and journalists who advance these theories generally pay little attention to the philosophical literature which has critiqued such views and offered much richer complexity to them, notably the psychoanalytic, sociological, and anthropological discourses that have developed since Darwin.

The various alternatives to the “malignant patriarchy” of “evolutionary marriage” offered consider only the reproductive economy, which Hudson conflates with the sexual economy. Homosexuality, as such, is still completely invisible inasmuch as it falls outside of Hudson’s evolutionary scope as well as the social engineering that she advocates. In none of the social arrangements that Hudson outlines is homosexuality taken as a given in society, let alone our society. In this analysis homosexuality is then presented as a threat to the heterosexual reproductive economy. Yet, this crucial point is never explained. Inasmuch as Hudson acknowledges that the ideal “gender equality” marriages are rarely met, in what way does the existence of other kinds of marriages constitute a zero-sum game, especially for those who reject the reproductive economy altogether?

The largest theoretical problem of this paper is that its notion of “equality” in opposite-sex relationships is thought to only occur in reproductive heterosexual relationships. The goal of “gender equality” advanced here is linked to “marriage” because of “male dominance and sexual irresponsibility toward females on the one hand, and female vulnerability because of reproduction on the other.” Here, “equality” is rendered exclusively in reproductive terms, though the contours of such equality are not fleshed out. No definition of “equality” is given with respect to non-reproductive interactions between males and females, such as in access to social, political, and economic power. By reducing gender relations to a reproductive economy, the call to gender equality advanced in this article fails to address the most pressing areas where women lack equality.

The equivocation on the term “gender equality” is problematic. At times, it is not clear what this means, when one knows it has been achieved, and how various levels of failure to achieve this ideal might actually affect society. For women, gender equality is variously conceived as: not being separated from men and pursuing joint projects (Arrangement B); not being forced to be “male” in the sense of relinquishing fully their obligations to their own children (Arrangement C); not being forced to care fully for their children without males (Arrangement D); and not living in “gender separation” (Arrangements E & F). As an alternative to these, Hudson offers an ideal of heterosexual marriage (“companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage”) wherein gender equality is obtained.

In these examples, gender equality is achieved on two conditions: 1) interaction between the sexes, including joint projects, specifically the 2) shared responsibility to raise children. This definition of “gender equality” is a step backward for feminists as it sets a rather low bar. For instance, these objectives for “gender equality” as conceived of by Hudson may be achieved without women’s access to vote, work, own property, and even freedom from violence. To define “gender equality” in these terms reinforces, rather than challenges, reproduction as the defining characteristic of male/female relationships.

The term that Hudson adopts to describe homosexual relationships is “gender apartheid.” This negatively charged accusation that homosexuals cannot or will not engaged in mixed-sex interactions underscores the restricted notions of meaningful and politically valuable relationships that Hudson imagines. This is because, she argues, the only significant kinds of mixed sex interactions are within marriages. This assumption is made precisely because her definition of gender equality excludes women’s ability to participate meaningfully in society outside of reproductive marriage, and therefore to interact as equals with males in other economies of power. As such, Hudson’s view of women restricts them to the realm of the heterosexual home as the only possible place where gender equality might occur, as opposed to the workplace, the political sphere, or even kinship relations besides husband-wife.

In her analysis of alternative arrangements of care, including the care for the elderly, same-sex parents, and other arrangements, Hudson offers the valuable praise for those who willingly take on this responsibility for others. Yet, this comes with a caveat:

“But no one would confuse the good that comes from a Care commitment with the good that comes from a companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage. There is simply no comparison. Prevalent companionate heterosexual monogamous marriages create the only possible ground for democracy, freedom, peace, and meaningful gender equality. There is no other route to these goods.”

This exclusive claim that such ideal marriages form the “only” possible ground for the goods she identifies is particularly bold, one that is repeatedly asserted.

However, this argument relies on the privileging of children born into such relationships, and jointly reared as troubling since gender equality has been defined specifically in terms of jointly providing care. “Freedom” only belongs to these kinds of families.

“In a sense, if persons reject procreation within companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage and instead embrace the forms of gender inequality and gender apartheid, then they are not free. For can one claim to love and value human life in the light of freedom, and reject procreation in a companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage context, which as we have seen is the ground of freedom?”

Here, the claims that those who do not have children either in heterosexual or homosexual relationships “are not free” reveals the circularity of the argument. Though Hudson has made the effort to separate out “care” from “reproduction” as a distinction, suggesting that the state has an interest in relationships of care, regardless of the status of the individual providing that care, here she collapses them again. She has defined freedom and equality as only possible within marriages, ignoring other economies of human interaction. Then she insists that this is the only economy in which freedom can exist and be produced.

Statism and Marriage

Hudson suggests that state interests serve as the deciding factor in authorizing particular kinds of relationships:

“The gender arrangements privileged by the state determine its potential for democracy, peace, and gender equality. There is only one form of gender arrangement–companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage—that provides the sustainable foundation for these public goods. The state will be harmed if it fails to privilege the only gender arrangement that promotes such profound public benefits.”

This view of marriage which denies that marriage is a right, but rather something which the state can grant or take away from individuals according to its own interests, puts the state as the most important unit in society, and individuals and families as only instrumental to it. Now, this is certainly a coherent position, but one that I think gets it backwards. The state is there to serve the interests of individuals and families.

In order establish state interest, Hudson repeatedly asserts the link between non-“gender equal” marriages and inherent violence, but never demonstrates this claim; the correlation/causation gap is never closed. There are numerous sweeping claims along these lines that are simply footnoted, without any specific empirical examples. Furthermore, there are exactly zero studies of the “peacefulness” and “freedom” in societies with a high degree of acceptance toward homosexuals.

Furthermore, given that the 20th century has been by far the most brutal, including among societies who adopted ideals of “companionate marriage” like the United States, the direct causal connection between a particular model of marriage and peaceful co-existence with Others, strikes me as a particularly tenuous claim. Especially since it is these very societies offered as examples of “peace” and “freedom” that have been most accepting toward homosexuals.

Hudson concludes this section,

“Thus, the state itself has a vested interest in the creation and promulgation of companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage (G arrangements)—and likewise has a vested interest in the proactive hindrance of evolutionary marriage and gender apartheid. It is only through the widespread existence of companionate heterosexual monogamous marriages that democracy, freedom, prosperity, and other goods such as state peacefulness can continue to have strong root and be sustainable.”

In this statist model, every failure to achieve this ideal marital relationship should be punishable by the state. The problem with a statist view of marriage is that it makes minority populations subject to the “interests” of the state. If, for example, the government decided that it was in its interest to adopt a eugenic program for marriage and reproduction, preventing certain segments of the population from marrying and reproducing because such relationships could not be construed to fit the state’s interest, this position leaves no philosophical or legal grounds on which to object to such a program.

Conclusion

Hudson’s analysis of the same-sex marriage situation is rooted in a theoretically deficient view of human freedom, especially women’s freedom and equality. Her view simultaneously conceives of the voluntary relationships that one enter into as subject to state approval, while investing these relationships with the burden of being the only possible locus where (heterosexual) women’s equality may be obtained. The problem with this view, especially for women, is that it restricts equality and freedom to the domestic, reproductive economy. By ignoring other economies of power, most notably the poltical and the economic, Hudson can only conceive of women’s freedom within the context of reproductive, heterosexual relationships. As such, she casts homosexuals as engaged in “gender apartheid” that threatens women’s equality. The problem, however, is that there is no argument for how homosexual relationships actively compete against heterosexual marriages in order to present this threat, let alone how such relationships adversely affect economies of power outside of reproduction. Further, the effects of her own “heterosexual apartheid” on the freedom of homosexuals is never evaluated. To pit (heterosexual) feminists against homosexuals in this way is neither politically wise, nor theoretically sound.

———–

[1.] V.H. Cassler, “’Some Things That Should Not Have Been Forgotten Were Lost’: The Pro-Feminist, Pro-Democracy, Pro-Peace Case for State Privileging of Companionate Heterosexual Monogamous Marriage” SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring 2009) http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerMarriage.html
[2.] Such critiques culminate in Judith Butler, Gender trouble : feminism and the subversion of identity (New York: Routledge, 1990, repr. 1999).
[3.] Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the body : gender politics and the construction of sexuality (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000).
[4.] Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (New York: Mariner Books, 1996); Bradley Thayer, Darwin and International Relations: On the Evolutionary Origins of War and Ethnic Conflict (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2004), Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden, Sex and War: How Biology Explains War and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World (Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, 2008). These books

  • http://bycommonconsent.com/cynthia/ sister blah 2

    Wow. This is good. (I’m feeling very self-conscious about my level of articulateness and my writing skills generally right now… )

    Inasmuch as Hudson acknowledges that the ideal “gender equality” marriages are rarely met, in what way does the existence of other kinds of marriages constitute a zero-sum game, especially for those who reject the reproductive economy altogether?

    This was the main sticking point I had when reading the article (from Julie’s T&S link). Hudson paints a utopian dreamworld of beautifully equal heterosexual couples and asks us why we’d ever want anything different (esp. why we’d ever want children born into anything different). But it is painfully obvious, and even she explicitly acknowledges, that such unions are a tiny minority of marriages. She never explains why should we concern ourselves with the harm being done to the ideal by some small number of gay marriages, when 99% of heterosexual marriages (the unequal ones) are also committing this alleged harm to the ideal.

    I like your point about her approach being statist. That hadn’t occurred to me. “…[P]uts the state as the most important unit in society, and individuals and families as only instrumental to it,” couldn’t be in stronger opposition to, “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” (from the Proclamation)

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Hmmm. Nice. I will stay out of it from here.

  • Mark Brown

    Excellent work, TT. Thank you.

    I agree that Hudson’s piece clears the bar as one of the best arguments for her position. But the fact that it still has so many serious flaws indicates just how low that bar is. When the best we can say of something is that it doesn’t make us cringe, we are damning with faint praise.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    If the reason for marriage is full gender equality, I fail to see why SSM doesn’t promote more of that equality or sameness. Indeed, isn’t that the essence of homosexual relationships — sameness?

    If the real purpose of marriage is heteronomy or difference, however, then SSM fails to promote the purpose of marriage. Why not see the purpose of marriage as opposition in all things so that another who is really very different constantly pulls us our of our comfort zone where we can grow from the relationship? It is the difference that promotes life and personal growth — growth only takes place outside the comfort zone. So if the purpose of marriage is to provide for the generation of new life and to promote personal growth, it is heteronomy or difference and homonomy or sameness that is the essence of marriage.

    Why not simply say that the real purpose of marriage for the State is precisely the protection of the potential for generativity of life possible only within a heterosexual relations? What justifies the State in protecting or promoting any kind of particular human relationship? Why should the State get involved and spend resources and set up costly institutions to protect and promote at all? The State has an overwhelming interest to promote such relationships and to protect the potential for having children within them. It doesn’t have that same overwhelming interest in promoting or protecting SSM.

    From the Church’s standpoint, I would think the opposition to SSM is fairly clear and obvious: (1) homosexual sex is sinful and the State ought not promote what is sinful; (2) if SSM is recognized as a fundamental right on par with hetero marriage, then the Church could be denied important privileges by the State like the privilege of licensing for social services and welfare.

    I suspect that (1) plays a very large role. However, it isn’t a secular reason and so won’t have traction with those who don’t share the same underlying commitment that there is such a thing as sin, that homosexual sex is sinful and that the State ought not promote it. Indeed, members of the Church that I have dialogued with who support SSM (including the author of this post) don’t regard homosexual sex as sin — full stop. However, I believe it is the role of the prophet and Church precisely to define what is acceptable conduct and what is required of us in moral appraisal — and to critique and call to repentance the society that fosters immoral conduct. I regard those Church membes who undertake to redefine what is sinful as rejecting prophetic authority of the Church. However, I acknowledge that this is an argument that won’t fly in a secular society such the US. However, I don’t understand why it doesn’t have more traction with some Church members. It is not a reason that is cogent for those who don’t accept that homosexual sex is sinful; but it ought to be cogent for those who do.

    Reason (2) seems to me to have secular traction. Why should the States interest in homosexual unions (which I believe is slight at best) take precedence over religious beliefs and such rights as licensing to provide social services? The problem with this argument is that most don’t see it as a real danger — it has only happened very recently in California that a a court ruled that a physician must choose between giving up her license to practice medicine or treat homosexual couples the same as heterosexual couples. I believe that this is a very legitimate concern — but until such rulings become established and more widespread, the concern just won’t sink in.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Whoops — I should have said: So if the purpose of marriage is to provide for the generation of new life and to promote personal growth, it is heteronomy or difference and NOT homonomy or sameness that is the essence of marriage.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,

    Indeed, members of the Church that I have dialogued with who support SSM (including the author of this post) don’t regard homosexual sex as sin — full stop.

    Blake, that is quite the accusation! However, I have never, ever, ever made either claim that homosexual sex should not be considered a sin by LDS, nor do I believe I have ever discussed this topic with you or with anyone, for that matter. I have, however, suggested that what we as LDS regard as “sin” is completely irrelevant to this issue. I mean, the church doesn’t even make this terrible argument that homosexuality is a sin and therefore we shouldn’t allow for SSM, so why you are pretending that they have is a mystery to me!

    Nor have I ever offered my support for SSM, because, really, who would care what I supported or didn’t support? I am interested in good arguments, not advocacy.

    Anyway, you and I have done the rounds in depth on your #2. For any readers who are interested, see comments 66 and 67 in this post:
    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2008/08/children-and-ssm-an-analysis-of-the-divine-institution-of-marriage/

    The purpose of the present post, however, is to address the “feminist” argument against SSM, so let’s try to keep the comments on that track.

  • Proud Daughter of Eve

    The purpose of the present post, however, is to address the “feminist” argument against SSM,[...]

    Mostly what I saw this post addressing was one person’s feminist argument against SSM. Since you didn’t find her arguments persuasive, (which, to be honest, I didn’t either), I wonder what feminist arguments you would find persuasive.

    Myself, it just seems like cognitive dissonance to uphold the value of women in the world on the one hand and deny the importance of their contribution to the family unit on the other.

  • ECS

    Nice analysis, TT. I was struck by Hudson’s assumption that hetero marriage is beneficial for women. This is laughable.

    Study after study shows that, once married (and especially once children come along), women shoulder much more of the burden of running the household than do their male spouses -even among couples who both work outside the home at similar levels of pay.

    A brief review of history will show that unmarried women were (and arguably still are) the vanguard of addressing and fixing gender inequities in our society. Married women with children are generally too busy running to the grocery store before it closes, doing the family laundry, and arranging child care to do much else.

    Perhaps in an ideal world hetero marriage would effect the social (and spiritual) change Hudson contemplates, but there’s no shred of evidence – as you (TT) point out – that indicates this is a reasonable expectation in reality.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Hi PDoE,
    You’re perfectly correct that I am not addressing all feminist arguments against SSM (though I admit that I am unaware of others that differ substantially), but rather Hudson’s argument specifically.

    As for the rest of your comment, I am not totally clear as to your meaning.

    I wonder what feminist arguments you would find persuasive.

    Persuasive with respect to what? I do offer an alternative feminist account of “gender equality” than Hudson, which I find more persuasive, but I am not sure if that is what you are asking for.

    Myself, it just seems like cognitive dissonance to uphold the value of women in the world on the one hand and deny the importance of their contribution to the family unit on the other.

    Again, I am not sure if you are accusing me of denying the importance of this or just making a general comment. Can you be more clear?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: If I have misrepresented your position, then I apologize. I asked point-blank in our previous discussion if you regarded same-sex sex as sinful. You refused to respond. I acknowledge that you never argued that LDS shouldn’t regard ss sex as sin — I asked your position; not the view that Mormons ought to adopt.

    I never claimed that the Church expressly makes the argument from sin in a secular context; however, I claim that it is what is really driving its opposition in part. I claim it is an underlying or subtextual argument. I also claim that it is a good argument and not at all irrelevant. It is a cogent argument for many who accept its premises — included I suggest those who reject SSM the 30 states that have rejected SSM. That is really what is driving the rejection of SMM in my view.

    Take the argument from sin to be a gender neutral, equal opportunity argument applying equally to both males, females and everything in between and voila, you have an argument that is feminist because it applies equally to all sexes.

  • ECS

    Blake – I’m not sure if you’re a lawyer, but in case you haven’t read the judicial opinions, “sin” is not a legitimate basis upon which to deny marriage rights to homosexual couples.

    Whether homosexual sex is a “sin” is a religious red herring to the real issue.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    ECS: You don’t get it. I agree that whether I regard SS sex as a sin is not a legitimate basis for a court or the State to deny SSM. They can only consider secular reasons and whether SS sex is sin is not a secular reason. I expressly noted that. However, the “sin argument” is a basis for me to oppose SSM as something that the state ought to promote. I don’t believe that the state ought to promote what is sinful. It is an argument cogent for me given my beliefs and a basis for me to not want the government using my tax dollars to promote what I oppose. I am more than entitled to consider my own religious beliefs in what I consider is appropriate for government to promote and support.

    Here is the great problem. You apparently believe that if everyone doesn’t accept your beliefs, that they cannot be a basis for your own political or legal views. Well, why not? Whether others accept your beliefs is no reason for you not to consider them in your own view of the world and what is appropriate for government. To the extent others share the same beliefs, your argument about government not getting involved in SSM will be cogent. For those who rely only on secular considerations, such arguments will have no persuasiveness.

    I have seen a wholesale sale-out by Latter-day Saints to the argument that only secular considerations ought to count in this discussion. They won’t consider their own beliefs in their own opinion about SSM. That is just nonsense in my view. Let’s acknowledge that not all commitments are shared by all and not all arguments are equally cogent for others. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t cogent for me or for us or for those who share similar beliefs. I reject that view that only secular reasons ought to count for those who also have non-secular commitments and beliefs.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    I asked point-blank in our previous discussion if you regarded same-sex sex as sinful. You refused to respond.

    Yes, exactly. So on what grounds do you presume to put me in the same category as those who “undertake to redefine what is sinful as rejecting prophetic authority of the Church”?

    I still refuse to respond for the same reason as before: the category of “sin” is not relevant to discussions of public policy.

    I am confused when you say, “I never claimed that the Church expressly makes the argument from sin in a secular context” but then immediately contradict this claim by saying “it is what is really driving its opposition in part.” So, are you saying that the secret reason the church is opposing SSM is because it considers homosexuality to be a sin, and that the public reasons that it offers are disingenuous or not central to its claims? What evidence do you offer for such an assertion? Why is it that you have privileged access to what “is really driving its opposition” when the rest of us regular church members are simply misled by what the church tells us?

    “I also claim that it is a good argument and not at all irrelevant. It is a cogent argument for many who accept its premises — included I suggest those who reject SSM the 30 states that have rejected SSM.”

    Again, what evidence do you have for the claim that the real reason why those who have opposed SSM is because it is a sin, and not for the “secular” reasons?

    Take the argument from sin to be a gender neutral, equal opportunity argument applying equally to both males, females and everything in between and voila, you have an argument that is feminist because it applies equally to all sexes.

    Blake, are you being serious here? Is this really representative of your understanding of feminism, or are you making a joke. I want to be sure before I respond.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake et al.,
    This really is not the place to hash out whether or not “sin” is an appropriate basis on which to make public policy decisions. First, because this is not an argument that the church “actually” offers, regardless of what secret information Blake is in possession of as to “what is really driving its opposition.”

    Second, because this discussion has started off sloppily and is going downhill fast. To win the argument, Blake needs to distinguish “sin” from “public harm,” and explain why some “sins” should be made a part of public policy, and not others, such as why banning SSM but not homosexual sex meets his criteria for when “sin” should be taken into account in making public policy, or not. In the past he has been unable to make a cogent argument on this point, and it doesn’t look like he’s made progress on it.

    Third, this isn’t the topic of this post. If Blake wants to discuss this topic, he can write about it on his own blog.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: I take your refusal to respond to speak for itself. However, see below for why I find this refusal to be based on a misplaced view about the role of religious belief in public policy considerations.

    TT “So, are you saying that the secret reason the church is opposing SSM is because it considers homosexuality to be a sin, and that the public reasons that it offers are disingenuous or not central to its claims? What evidence do you offer for such an assertion? Why is it that you have privileged access to what “is really driving its opposition” when the rest of us regular church members are simply misled by what the church tells us?”

    Yeah, I’m asserting that this is a part of the real reason the Church opposes SSM. Do I really need to cite what the Church says about homosexual sex being sin? I readily admit that in the secular arguments it doesn’t make this argument. It would be futile to do so since it isn’t a secular argument. However, I believe that it is the primary underlying reason that so many LDS and evangelicals and catholics oppose SSM. It isn’t stated in secular arguments; but it is the primary consideration that drives the opposition to SSM in the stastes that reject it in my view. it is the religious views of the hispanics and blacks that voted for Prop. 8 in overwhelming numbers. It is the reason Utah vastly disfavors SSM. It is the reason the south is committed to laws that make SSM illegal and unconstitutional. And I claim that it is a legitimate reason. It is the reason many countries in Europe accept SSM. It is the reason that the states that accept SSM accept it. It is really what is motivating this debate and we ought to acknowledge it as such.

    What justifies your assertion that discussion of sin isn’t relevant to public policy? I haven’t seen an argument from you to support this strong position — and if you’re only interested in good arguments as you assert, then I’d like to see your argument for this assertion.

    it I suggest that you buy into an erroneous view of persuasion and what is legitimate in public discourse. I recognize that these considerations of sin have no cogency for those who have only secular beliefs. However, I reject the view that one’s religious view have no basis in deciding what is appropriate public policy, the appropriate role of government, the nature of underlying human civil rights etc. Indeed, for many these fundamemental issues are grounded primarily in religious beliefs — like the belief that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights that not even government can take these rights away because they don’t derive from government at all.

    I claim that you have bought into a bad argument — that only secular reasons can count for government or public policy because not everyone will accept such considerations. I agree that such reasons won’t count for those holding only secular beliefs; but for those who hold also non-secular beliefs (which is still the vast majority in the US) those beliefs are both relevant and may be persuasive reasons to adopt a view of government involvement in fundamental moral issues like marriage and what is appropriate for the state to condone and sanction. See my response to ECS who I argue buys into the same mistaken view.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Sorry TT, I didn’t see your last post until after hitting the send button. It is one of the reasons I find blogging to be so artificial and unacceptable to my sensibilities. Your blog, so you get to be a control freak. You get to set the parameters of legitimate discussion. I accept all of that. I just refuse to participate further when that happens. Why? It is offensive to the nature of dialogue which progresses as it will to topics generated by the discussion. I also don’t like someone else controlling what I can and cannot say.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: “Blake needs to distinguish “sin” from “public harm,” and explain why some “sins” should be made a part of public policy, and not others, such as why banning SSM but not homosexual sex meets his criteria for when “sin” should be taken into account in making public policy, or not. In the past he has been unable to make a cogent argument on this point, and it doesn’t look like he’s made progress on it.”

    Boy, I’m really confused by this comment TT. I don’t recall ever addressing the distinction you make or ask me to discuss — and I don’t even understand it! Maybe you could enlighten me as to what the heck you’re talking about and where I discussed it in the past. No wonder I haven’t made a case for it in the past.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Blake:
    You said: “I claim that you have bought into a bad argument — that only secular reasons can count for government or public policy because not everyone will accept such considerations.”

    Those of us who believe in public reason (Kant, Rawls, and me) do not reject religious arguments but instead insist that we should be able to connect such arguments to publicly defendable reasons (harm, equality, liberty) and not just “because God said so.”

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Fine, Blake. If you really want to have the discussion about why “sin” is a relevant category here (even though this post never addresses this question once!), I will indulge. I guess the cat is out of the bag. I suppose that I am just annoyed that you didn’t actually read my post, assumed that it was just another post about SSM, raised a bunch of irrelevant and overdone arguments, and took it as an occasion to unapologetically accuse me of some rather terrible things. The reason that I wrote this post was to engage the arguments that I was writing about, hence my annoyance when you raised arguments that have nothing to do with anything I have said.

    For the sake of argument, I am going to concede your point that sin *is* an acceptable category for making public policy. Now, however, you need to make your case for two things:
    1) how does this view take into consideration those who have different notions of sin? In other words, what distinguishes your view from theocracy? How do we know what “sins” should be illegal? Should coffee drinking? What about “R” movies? What about swearing?
    2) How do we determine what legal sanctions against “sin” should be? For instance, in your dream world where the “sin” of homosexuality is illegal, how do you know what the punishment should be? Should it be death? Should homosexuals be prevented from raising their biological children? Should they be prevented from entering into contracts?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    I take your refusal to respond to speak for itself.

    Look, I refuse to answer the question precisely because you think that the answer to the question is relevant, and I do not. The only possible reason that you could want to ask it is to confirm your theory that only members of the church who think that homosexuality is not a sin could possibly accept SSM. You think that if you know that answer to this question, then suddenly you know enough about that person’s position to give them credibility or ignore them. The fact is that I happen to think that lots of things are sins, such as bearing false witness against one’s brother. Blake, it doesn’t mean that I think you should be forcibly divorced by the State as a result of your sins.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: Arguments function as persuaders. To the extent premises are accepted as sound, and the reasoning is valid, the argument is cogent. What is cogent is person specific. What I find to be cogent, you may not. However, to the extent both you and I agree on something, my argument can be cogent for both me and you and not for others who don’t accept the premises as sound. That’s simple.

    To the extent we have different notions of sin, what i argue may not be cogent for you. If we both accept that adultery is sin, and the state ought not condone adultery, the we can agree that laws promoting adultery are bad laws. If you see adultery as no big deal, you won’t see those laws as bad.

    I didn’t talk about making sins illegal. I talked about Government not promoting or condoning sin as normative. There is a big difference there. Your questions all assume that I argue that sin ought to be against the law. I make no such assertion. So I don’t need to answer them because they are all based on a false assumption. I believe that pornography is sinful. I don’t believe that it ought to be outlawed. But I don’t believe that it is the business of government to promote it and condone it as ethically normative — and I certainly don’t want it to take away the Church social services license if it believe pornography is sinful and the government asserts that one must accept pornography as the same as all other media or licenses won’t be issued.

    Do you have some argument for your pontification that only secular reasons count?

    Chris H: I reject that I have to show some public harm beyond the notion that government ought not promote what is sinful or bad. Further, I believe that I am perfectly entitled to determine what I regard as sinful and bad. I don’t want government promoting pornography to adults. There is no evidence that I am aware of that is somehow inherently harmful for adults — or at least no more than gambling which is legal in 48 states. I don’t believe that the government ought to promote either of them and certainly ought not take action that implies that such things are on par with ethically valuable virtues.

    And man I’d like to see where Kant supports your notion of public reasons. For instance, I believe that my basic human rights cannot be abridged by government because they don’t derive from government. It is a religious belief. Do I have to justify that by some harm principal or some notion of original position a la Rawls t make it the foundation for my belief about the limits of governmental authority? Hardly.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Blake: There is a large body of feminist literature about why porn is harmful. It contributes to rape. I would classify that as a harm. I do think government should regulate and restrict, though not on religious grounds (in my case).

    Check out Kant’s “An Answer to the Question:
    What is Enlightenment?” It can be found here:

    http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/kant.html

    I am not sure if you have much grounding in political philosophy, this might be a futile discussion.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Okay Blake,
    You have made a distinction between making something illegal and promoting it. Yet, I fail to see how you come to this distinction for two reasons:
    1) You have changed your argument completely. Originally, you suggested that sin should be relevant for determining public policy. Now, you have suggested that only the condoning of sin should be relevant. On what philosophical grounds do you make this shift?
    2) Your notion of what it means for the government to “condone” something lacks any guiding principle. For instance, why does the legalization of SSM mean that the government “condones” it, but the legalization of pornography does not? In what way does the legalization of something constitute or not constitute condoning? Does the fact that the government taxes pornographers and non-pornographers equally mean that the government does or does not condone it? Does the fact that pornographers are free to marry each other mean that the government does or does not condone their “sin”?

    Finally, who cares what the government does or does not condone with respect to sin? Why do you think that the State’s opinion with respect to sin is important? I presume that it is because you think that the State acts as a guidance for how people make moral decisions, is that right?

    Do you have some argument for your pontification that only secular reasons count?

    I have not pontificated any such thing. Rather, I have fully accepted your premises and am trying to understand how you come to your conclusions.

    my basic human rights cannot be abridged by government because they don’t derive from government

    Do you still stick by your previous claim in the past that marriage is not a right?

    [Edit: Sorry, I wanted to ask another set of questions around "condoning" that is related to the question I asked about about how do determine the punishment for "sins." How do we know how much "condoning" is appropriate? Are equal protection laws for homosexual too much condoning? What about access to public services? What about letting homosexual couples raise their own children? How do we know that these are not too much condoning?

    Just out of curiosity, are you just making up this notion of condoning sin, or is it based in some kind of political philosophy that I am not aware of? I would really like to see where this notion of rejecting government "condoning" comes from.]

  • gary

    I am usually just a lurker here, so maybe I should not be butting in to this interesting discussion. However, with respect to TT’s question regarding the distinction between legalizing SSM and pornography, I think it is important to remember that SSM is an act of the state. The state is actually conferring “married” status upon couples. When the state agrees to confer that status on homosexual couples, it is expressly stating that those relationships merit the same status as heterosexual relationships. I am still personally ambivalent on this issue, but I do believe that this is a meaningful distinction. There is no similar affirmative state action involved in merely allowing citizens to produce and read pornographic literature.

    Furthermore, I also think Blake is correct when he says that there is an underlying unstated assumption among opponents of SSM that homosexual relations are morally wrong. Almost all argument given by opponents of SSM are attempts to develop secular reasons for their opposition to SSM but those reasons are insignificant compared to this reason. Does anybody here really believe that the church would oppose SSM if it considered homosexual relationships to be morally neutral or acceptable. Not a chance. You can certainly question whether that is a good thing, but I think is quite apparent that an underlying belief about the morality of homosexual relationships is the prime motivator behind the large majority of opponents of SSM.

    Sorry to intrude. Carry on.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: (1) Look at post #4. I haven’t change my view at all. I asserted that government ought not promote sin. How is that any different than what I’m saying now? Frankly, I’m mystified (again) by your assertion that I’ve change my argument completely. Well, nope.

    (2) The government pays literally billions to promote marriage by licensing it, paying for medical exams, setting up domestic courts to protect it, and so forth. If that isn’t promoting an activity, what could possibly qualify? These same protections and this promotion will be extended to SSM if it is recognized as marriage.

    I still take the position that one does not have a right to marry just anyone that one wants — so don’t twist what I say about this right. You don’t have the right to marry your sister. You have no right to marry your mother — or your wife and her sister at the same time. So the right to marry doesn’t mean the right to marry just anyone you want — despite the California court’s absurd statements to the contrary. Further, one doesn’t have the right to determine just which relationships one has the right to regard as marriage. The right to marry extends only after we have determined which relationships we regard as marriage. So asserting that there is a basic right to SSM is just assuming way too much.

    The government ought not promote SSM given my values for the same reason it ought not promote adultery and pornography. Yeah, you have a right to look at pornography if you choose and the government won’t throw you in jail for committing adultery. That doesn’t mean that the government ought to set up institutions and pay billions to promote pornography and adultery. If the government is going to promote something, it must have a good reason.

    Frankly, we are asking all of the wrong questions. What is the compelling reason to promote and protect same sex relationships such that government has a business in setting up the same kinds of protections as marriage? Equating same sex marriage as a right equivalent to the civil rights of races to be treated equally to heterosexual relations is just a bad argument in my view.

    The government’s promotion of SSM as morally equivalent to heterosexual marriage is something that the government ought not do given my values — because I believe homosexual sex is sinful. I don’t believe that it is an appropriate role for government to undertake to declare such moral issues — especially when it clashes with widely held views about what is moral. Yet that is what I believe the SSM debate in the political arena is really about. Those who promote SSM want it to be regarded as normative and morally equivalent to heterosexual marriage.

    I have studied a good deal of political philosophy, but it ain’t my passion. I’m mostly just making this up as I think about and reason it thru.

    Chris H.: Kant’s essay on the role freedom of reason in guiding political institutions cannot be what you claim supports your harm principal — because it doesn’t. Look, I’m no expert in political philosophy. I am an expert in Kant.

    I’d like to see the studies that show that pornography causes rape. I don’t think that any such thing can be shown — even tho I believe pornography is wrong because it objectifies women — and men and every moving thing. I know lots of people who view pornography who are not rapists.

  • dr.bsm

    Gary,

    Good to see the discussion is alive over here too. As I read your commentary, it struck me that my discomfort with the SSM debate arises from all the “underlying unstated” reasons that lurk behind the outward arguments. Yes, sin seems to motivate the anti-SSM faction, yet they try as hard as possible to avoid discussing it (they know it sounds antiquated and judgmental). And as we’ve discussed over at T&S, the pro-SSM crowd seems most desirous for legitimacy, but you’ll not hear many such proponents say so (it sounds whiny and weak).

    The whole thing stinks of disingenuousness. At least Valerie has made an attempt at an argument rooted in gender equality rather than sin, tradition, etc. TT and others have made constructive critiques of her views that should inspire others to make even more persuasive cases, rather than quibble over philosophical minutae.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    I think that I am getting closer to understanding your argument, and you have given me plenty to consider here, but before I address the points you have already made, I wanted to repeat a few questions that I believe went unaddressed in your previous comment:

    1. “who cares what the government does or does not condone with respect to sin? Why do you think that the State’s opinion with respect to sin is important?”

    2. “How do we know how much “condoning” is appropriate? Are equal protection laws for homosexual too much condoning? What about access to public services? What about letting homosexual couples raise their own children? How do we know that these are not too much condoning?”

    Gary, thanks for your comment, and I appreciate that you have entered the discussion. I’m going to hold off on answering your argument until I hear from Blake, so that I can address them at the same time.

  • ECS

    Apologies for getting the argument off track, TT. But since we’re already there – two (or three) quick thoughts:

    1) Those who consider homosexual sex as “sinful” behavior would be better served if they kept their religious beliefs to themselves in discussing the legalization of SSM. While your religious beliefs may dictate how you judge the behavior of others, admitting that your religious beliefs compel your opposition to SSM indicates your reliance on a divine authority with negative currency in the U.S. court system.

    2. Restricting marriage rights harms the hundreds of thousands of children whose parents are of the same gender. These children have a compelling interest to be raised within a stable framework of marriage just as children of heterosexual couples have. The best interests of these children cannot be less compelling than your interest in labeling homosexual behavior as “sinful” as a basis for denying these children important benefits of living with married parents.

    3. The state is not promoting homosexual relationships by extending marriage rights to gay couples. Is the state “promoting” interracial marriages by allowing blacks to marry whites? This argument makes no sense to me.

  • gary

    ECS: I agree with your point #1. I think that is precisely what most opponents try to do. They are trying to develop secular arguments to justify a position based primarily, although not exclusively, on their belief about the morality of homosexual relationships.

    With respect to your point #2, you may be correct. I am not sure. It seems to me that there are several competing interests involved, and I am still on the fence as to where I think we should come out on this one.

    And yes, I also acknowledge that the fact that I am on the fence tells you something about my views on the sinfulness of homosexuality.

    With regard to your point #3, I think that the state is in fact promoting interracial marriages by allowing blacks to marry whites, and that is a good thing. Although I don’t think that “promote” is quite the right word. It is certainly expressly putting its imprimatur on the legitimacy of those interrelationships, and is making a clear statement that those relationships have the same status, serve the same societal purpose and are every bit as deserving of the label “marriage” as every other marriage. So yes, I think the analogy is a very good one, at least in that respect. I don’t see how you can avoid acknowledging that the state is in fact expressly condoning homosexual relationships when it sanctions SSM. I don’t think acknowledging that fact means you have to oppose SSM, but Blake is surely correct when he points out that there is an important distinction between the state not criminalizing pornography or other “sinful” behavior, and the state deciding which relationships qualify for the label and all of the rights and duties pertaining to marriage.

  • ECS

    Hi, Gary – thanks for your response. Perhaps Blake is using a broader definition of “promote” – which means to encourage. Some opponents of SSM (not necessarily Blake, but I’ve heard this from others) believe that the the legalization of SSM will encourage more people to become homosexual – or at least be less reticient to come out of the closet, so to speak.

    I don’t buy the argument that state action will encourage homosexual activity – a person’s sexuality isn’t so easily mutable and malleable. And closets are for clothes, not people.

  • gary

    I won’t try to elaborate on what Blake meant, but I don’t think he meant that he believes that sanctioning SSM would promote homosexual behavior. But I will let him speak for himself.

    I think his fundamental argument is sound. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the view that sanctioning SSM is an act by the state which condones and even legitimize sinful behavior. Nor is there anything wrong with the view that the state ought not to sanction behavior which one regards as sinful, as long as that is not an absolutist position. In other words, the sinfulness of a behaviour is a legitimate consideration, but it does not always trump all other considerations.

    Even though I agree with the thrust of Blake’s argument, I don’t think that entails the conclusion that one should oppose SSM. I might agree that the state should not put its stamp of approval on sinful behavior. However, I might also believe that the damage done to society by that action in this case is relatively minor, because it will have little effect on the incidence on such behavior. I might also be persuaded that there are some benefits which come to our society as a result. For example, I might believe that SSM will at least reduce the incidence of promiscuous homosexual behavior by modelling and encouraging more stable, monogamous relationships. These are just a couple of examples of competing arguments–there are many others such as the argument made by ECS above. I am not sure what I think of them right now. However, I do believe that we have to consider all competing interests and arguments involved. Blake has raised a couple, and I think his points are well made. I just don’t think that those arguments are dispositive of the issue.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Gary and ECS: I reject the view that religious folks have to remain quiet either about what is cogent for them or their real motivations. Are you suggesting they should lie about what really persuades them? Further, I believe that declaring religious or moral considerations out of bounds for religious people to discuss is just wrong-headed. Here is why: what is cogent differs for people. To the extent we share a common belief about, e.g., whether pornography is immoral and ought not be promoted by government, certainly our shared moral beliefs can form the basis of a valid argument that is cogent for us because we share commitment to the premises of the argument. (1) Government ought not promote what is sinful. (2) Homosexual conduct is sinful. (3) SSM promotes homosexual conduct. Therefore, the government ought not promote SSM. The argument is logically valid and to the extent you accept the premises, it is also cogent.

    To the extent that you don’t see e.g., pornography as morally evil, the argument will have no persuasive force for you: e.g., (1) Viewing pornography is sinful. (2) The government ought not promote sinful conduct. (3) The government ought not promote viewing pornography. I suspect that this argument may be cogent for you, whereas it clearly will not be for others. That doesn’t make it a bad argument. Nor does the fact that it is based on moral considerations that not everyone share make it somehow out of bounds for discussion.

    However, I don’t see any argument, valid or otherwise, from either one of you for the view that religious and personal moral views have no place in discussions about moral issues like SSM, pornography, gambling and so forth. As I said, to the extent such considerations are shared, they are legitimate for shared values and arguments about what is proper for government.

    I acknowledge that my views will not be cogent for those who don’t share my view that homosexual activity is a sin (while homosexuality per se is morally neutral because it doesn’t involve freely chosen conduct). That doesn’t entail in any way that I ought not argue from such a premise with those who share my view.

    If you’re arguing pragmatically that it could be counterproductive, I recognize that there is some possibility of that for people who don’t care about sound arguments but only about scoring points. I have also made secular arguments that I believe have some traction — though such arguments likely will not be as cogent for those not having a lot of legal training.

    ECS your point #2 in oost #28 is valid only if you believe that children living with homosexual parents who are not married right now are at risk and disadvantaged compared to married couples. Homosexuals roundly reject those arguments. In fact, the data show that even where SSM is legalized that homosexuals rarely take advantage of it. Are you suggesting that we force them to marry — or even encourage them to marry — as a basis of having children because these children would be better off in a stable family relationship? The fact is that the “sin argument” is not a cogent secular argument and has nothing to do with such considerations.

    With respect to ECS’s #3 in post #28 — what Gary said.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Gary: I agree completely with you #31. However, I do believe that the real goal of those seeking SSM is to socially legitimize homosexual relationships and sex as morally on par with heterosexual relationships and sex. I don’t believe that it is the proper role of government to do that.

  • gary

    Blake: I agree that religious people should not be expected to remain silent about their real motivations. There is nothing at all wrong with saying that I believe X is morally wrong, and I oppose any state action which condones, encourages or legitimizes X. You have not seen, nor will you see any argument from me that objections to state action based on private moral beliefs are out of bounds. After all, I oppose all kinds of things based on my moral beliefs. However, since I agree with you that those arguments carry no weight with people who do not share those moral beliefs, opponents of SSM will be ineffective in advancing their position if they rely exclusively upon those arguments.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Gary: I believe we’re in agreement. I agree totally that moral arguments cannot be relied upon to persuade those who don’t share a common moral commitment or outlook.

    However, I believe that there is an argument that is secular and has considerable weight even tho it is a close cousin to the moral argument: (1) it is not the proper role of government to decide and declare that homosexual sexual activity is morally on par with heterosexual sexual activity; (2) SSM is a government declaration that homosexual sexual activity is morally on par with heterosexual sexual activity; (C) therefore, SSM violates the proper role of government. Indeed, for me this is the dispositive argument.

  • Proud Daughter of Eve

    As for the rest of your comment, I am not totally clear as to your meaning.

    Sorry. I’ve been fighting a cold and my coherency is kinda spotty. :)


    Persuasive with respect to what? I do offer an alternative feminist account of “gender equality” than Hudson, which I find more persuasive, but I am not sure if that is what you are asking for.

    Your post was pretty detailed. Since you seemed to take more issue with how the original point was argued than with the point itself (SSM should not be supported) that it made me curious about how you felt the point could be argued. To be more specific, what your idea of a feminist argument against SSM would be like.


    Again, I am not sure if you are accusing me of denying the importance of this or just making a general comment. Can you be more clear?

    I was trying not to accuse anyone of anything. I know how charged these discussions can get. I was just making a general statement.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com J. Nelson-Seawright

    Jumping over 14,000 words of debate regarding whether governments ought or ought not to encourage sins, and who gets to define them in any case, can I make a comment about the original Hudson piece and TT’s response? I respect Hudson’s efforts to present a more coherent position regarding Mormon conservative marriage thought than one usually hears, and I think TT’s thoughts are useful, as always. Yet as interesting as I find much of what Hudson has to say, the central argument fails completely due to what I think are probably irremediable empirical flaws. Finessing the debate over exactly how one ought to conceptualize gender equality, it’s overwhelmingly clear from a huge number of different data sources that nearly any empirical measure of gender equality shows such equality to be most nearly achieved in exactly those societies where there is the greatest and most authoritative acceptance for same-sex marriage in particular and homosexuality in general. By contrast, the least gender-equitable societies on earth, such as Afghanistan, are also among the least tolerant of homosexuality. These facts should probably be sufficient to close the door on any claim that same-sex marriage threatens gender equality.

  • http://bycommonconsent.com/cynthia/ sister blah 2

    Blake, how should society decide between your argument in #35 and this one (slight rewording):

    (1) it is not the proper role of government to decide and declare that homosexual sexual activity is morally inferior to heterosexual sexual activity; (2) Forbidding SSM is a government declaration that homosexual sexual activity is morally inferior to heterosexual sexual activity; (C ) therefore, forbidding SSM violates the proper role of government.

    It seems to me that in both, government is taking on the role of declaring morality. Therefore, I don’t think it is possible for government to avoid being in the role you say it shouldn’t have. Gays are walking into county registrars asking for marriage licenses–either government is in that role saying yes, or government is in that role saying no. No way around it. The only way it could step out of the role and avoid the question is to get itself out of the role of issuing marriage licenses altogether.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Sister Blah: Your question is a good one. However, the answer is fairly obvious: the definition of marriage was established by practice and tradition without government ever declaring anything about the nature of heterosexual sex. Thus, heterosexual marriage is not a declaration of any sort by any governmental entity; but the government acting affirmatively either through courts or legislatures to declare homosexual sex to be equivalent to heterosexual sex is clearly a governmental act and declaration. Add to that the fact that only heterosexual unions can result in offspring and that the primary purpose of the state getting involved in the marriage business is to protect the potential for offspring and and to insure the well-being of children in such unions, and I believe that there is a fairly clear rationale for protecting heterosexual unions in a way that is not focused on making a moral declaration about the relatives values of homosexual and heterosexual sex.

    Now I want to be explicit: nothing I say can be taken to imply that we don’t owe a duty of love and respect for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals. We have a sacred duty to love them without judgment as to their worthiness. I have many homosexual friends whom I love and respect and I don’t want anything that I argue to be taken to mean that I regard them as less deserving of love and respect as persons.

  • Mark Brown

    (1) it is not the proper role of government to decide and declare that homosexual sexual activity is morally on par with heterosexual sexual activity; (2) SSM is a government declaration that homosexual sexual activity is morally on par with heterosexual sexual activity;

    Blake I’ll quibble with this, particularly your item # 2.

    Government is deeply involved in the sale of alcohol and tobacco products, but I think it is a stretch to think of a state liquor store as an endorsement of drinking. A person can be strongly opposed to alcohol and yet also think that the civil law should have some accomodation for it.

    This example also speaks to your argument about the sinfulness of an activity being sufficient grounds to favor laws forbidding that activity. It is my understanding that the church recently endorsed, or at least didn’t oppose, the Utah legislature’s effort to liberalize the state’s liquor laws. Again, it would be a real stretch to say that the church has changed it’s position on the Word of Wisdom and doesn’t regard drinking as a sin.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mark: Perhaps you haven’t heard of prohibition? I would argue that the State hasn’t legalized drugs precisely because it would entail State endorsement of drugs. The government would be well advised to outlaw alcohol if it could do it. However, making alcohol illegal didn’t work and the next best thing to prohibition was government regulation of alcohol. Thus, this case falls under the type of exception that Gary discussed in #31 above — there may be countervailing reasons for the government to get involved on balance even though it is undesirable to have the government dispensing liquor. Can you think of a similar reason for endorsing and promoting SSM?

    Let me give another example. The government has subsidized tobacco sales since the early 1900s. Even before it was proven that tobacco causes cancer, a Latter-day Saint would be well within her rights to oppose the government subsidies of tobacco on the grounds that she believes it is unwise to promote something that violates her personal standards. Given that we now know that tobacco causes cancer, it is unforgivable that government subsidizes, but it still does it anyway because of the powerful political position of certain southern senators. The fact that the government does something doesn’t mean it is good for government to do so — as your example assumes.

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    I spent much of my youth in Las Vegas, where every public decision, from the placement of a new elementary school to the repaving of an old road, from the date that a park was opened to whether or not a 7-Eleven’s liquor license was renewed, was governed to some extent by how that decision affected the gaming industry. You wouldn’t think that whether a shopping center can have its major exit on the north-south road as opposed to the east-west road would affect gaming, but it does, if it means that more traffic will be steered in a direction where it can easily turn right into a casino parking lot while the alternative makes it easier to jump on the interstate and bypass the casino.

    It just isn’t true, or at best is naive, to say that government licensing isn’t government endorsement to some extent. Government licensing gives an aura of approval and recognition and respectability on an emotional level; on a material level, it takes more care than most citizens want to give it to avoid corruption (when governments or parties add to their power by the taxes raised from licensed activities, or by the political support given by highly motivated if numerically small constituencies, there is a temptation to do what is rewarded above what is right).

    I’m not making a direct analogy between SSM and gambling; I’m just super-sensitive to the effect that government involvement can have on moral issues. You may need to live in a one-horse town or a one-industry state to appreciate that.

  • Mark Brown

    Blake, no, you’re misreading me.

    I’m going grocery shopping later tonight. I expect to walk past a long refrigerated case of processed pork products which are high in fat and surely bad for peoples’ health. Every package will have a seal of approval from the USDA. You seem to be arguing that because the government has placed a seal of approval on the five pound package of Polish sausage, it is influencing me to buy it. I disagree.

    A person can object to something and still recognize a need to government to be involved.

    Can you think of a similar reason for endorsing and promoting SSM?

    In my opinion, the state of Utah needs to do something to allow homosexual people to adopt. I know enough about the foster care system to be made sick to my stomach at the prospect of minors being taken from the home of gay people where they have lived for years and put back into the state run system. I think your response to Gary and ECS was inadequate. It is immaterial how many gay people would take advantage of the opportunity. I doubt that you would change your mind if 100% of gay people married, so your argument about how few of them actually do is quite weak.

  • Robert C.

    I just found and skimmed this page, and I’m hoping to read this post and discussion more carefully later, but I wanted to ask if there are plans to submit (an edited version) of this discussion to Square Two. If not, why not? I think there are many who don’t have time to keep abreast of bloggernacle discussion who would be interested in the best responses to these articles who won’t find them unless they appear in a peer-reviewed outlet such as Square Two….

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Robert C,
    I have no plans to submit this piece to Square Two, but if the editors approached me about it, I would consider it under certain conditions. However, given that the general editor is the subject of this critique, I find it unlikely that they will ask for it.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mark: “Every package will have a seal of approval from the USDA. You seem to be arguing that because the government has placed a seal of approval on the five pound package of Polish sausage, it is influencing me to buy it. I disagree.”

    I believe your statement is just false. First, you couldn’t buy it unless it were USDA approved. Second, the sellers seeks the seal for its commercial value and for its governmental approval. Third, just what moral principal is involved your purchasing sausage unless you’re a vegetarian out of some moral commitment? Your example just isn’t relevant.

    Take on my example of pornography. Do you think that the government ought to put its seal of approval on Hustler? Do you really disagree with the premise that the government ought not promote sin? I doubt it.

    Further, I think you miss the point regarding marriage and children. I argue that a proponent of gay marriage cannot use the argument that marriage is aimed at protecting children unless they are willing to concede that children presently in the custody of unmarried gay people are somehow at risk and in need of the protections of marriage. I doubt you’ll find any takers on that one. Further, your suggestion that minors will be taken out of the home of gay people who have been in such homes for years just because the care provider is gay is just nonsensical — it doesn’t happen.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    Thanks again for your thoughtful engagement with this topic.  To recap: You have made two claims which I have conceded as the basis of this conversation:
    1. Public policy discussions rooted in the category of “sin” are not, and should not be convincing in the public square, however
    2. Public policy discussions rooted in the category of “sin” should be convincing for religious believers who should act on this category when participating in the public square.
    What you have attempted to lay out is a set of reasons why #2 is the case by setting forth a criteria for how believers should consider public policies that may relate to any particular “sin.”  I want to reiterate that I have conceded both 1 and 2 solely for the purposes of this discussion, to test whether the criteria that you are setting out do in fact form a cogent view.  It is my contention that you have failed to provide a such cogent criteria.

    I think that you may have overlooked my request in 27. In order to just save time, I am going to just cut to the chase and say that you will not be able to provide any way to determining how much “condoning” is appropriate because your criteria don’t allow for you. You only conceive of two options: condone/not condone. However, the world is more complicated that your binary allows for, and this binary eventually will force you into making the state into the arm of the church since it is the only way in which the goal of “not condone” can conceivably be accomplished.

    When you lay out the logical form of your argument for how religious believers should consider policy as it relates to “sin”, you say: “(1) Government ought not promote what is sinful. (2) Homosexual conduct is sinful. (3) SSM promotes homosexual conduct. Therefore, the government ought not promote SSM.”

    (I chose this version of your argument because the one you offer in 35 is tautological.) I think that my confusion as to the moving target of your argument lies in your variable objection to “condoning” sin and “promoting” sin.  While you began by objecting to “promoting,” you then moved to “condoning.”  Now you have moved back to “promoting.” You believe that you have not changed your argument because you are substituting these terms as if they are synonyms, but they are not.  More on this below.

    Nevertheless, I think that my question is still valid as to how you come to the conclusion that condoning/prohibiting sin is the standard by which public policy should be evaluated.  On what basis, either philosophical or theological, do you claim that condoning or promoting sin should be avoided by the state? What is the genealogy of this idea? Given that the nation-state is a modern phenomenon, there is nothing in the scriptures that serves as basis for this claim. Is there something else that you are using to make the claim that “government ought not to promote what is sinful”? Why do you consider this particular formulation of the relationship between the state and sin as the “religious” position?

    Basically, I see 4 options for how the state might act in relation to sin: 1) prohibition of sin; 2) condoning sin (whatever that means, see below); 3) promoting sin, (whatever that means, see below); and 4) having a neutral stance with respect to sin.  In my reading of you, you seem to imagine that option 4 is the preferable one since you object to both the prohibition of homosexual acts (1) as well the condoning/promoting of them (2,3).  Is that a fair characterization of the principle that you are using to make your ethical decisions?  If so, I am still wondering about why you think that option 4 is better than option 1?  Would not option 1 better accomplish the goals you have set for public policy of not condoning or promoting homosexuality?  Further, would it not prevent the risk that a neutral policy might be construed as condoning?  It is precisely this imagined neutral ground that I find unconvincing if I accept your premise that categories of “sin” should inform my decision making.  I’ll explain why the imaginary neutral ground you set forth doesn’t really exist in the discussion of what it could possibly mean for the government to “condone” or “promote” an activity.

    I would like to push on the distinction between condoning and promoting.  You have used these more or less interchangeably, but I think that they actually have quite different meanings.  For instance, to condone means to “accept or allow,” or to “approve or sanction with reluctance.”  To condone homosexuality may be to allow it, but expressly not to promote it.  That is, to condone something is to take a passive stance with respect to something, which may be construed as tacit approval at best, but certainly does not constitute explicit approval in any way.  In this way, I fail to see any distinction between taking a neutral stance with respect to homosexuality and condoning it.  In this way, if SSM condones homosexual acts, it cannot be said to promote them any more than the homosexual’s condoning of heterosexual marriage could be thought of as their promotion of that marriage. They seem perfectly comfortable in condoning without promoting heterosexual marriage, so why couldn’t the inverse hold as well?

    Yet, to promote something is quite different altogether.  It is to “further the progress of something,” or to “actively encourage.”  But, I am not sure what you think is being actively encouraged here.  Is it homosexual sex, or homosexual marriage?  I fail to see how the possibility of SSM actively encourages more people to have homosexual sex ["(3) SSM promotes homosexual conduct,"] any more than the possibility of mixed-sex marriages actively encourage people to have heterosexual sex.  I think that you make the classical mistake here to conflate homosexual or heterosexual relationships as defined by the sexual encounter, and this leads you to think of marriage in terms exclusively related to sex. Further, as an assumption, it is very well possible that SSM might actually lead to a decline in homosexual sex. Inasmuch as this assumption lies on an empirical claim to the amount of sex that will occur, the moral argument hinges on no evidence at all.

    Let us consider to specific ways in which you imagine that the legalization of SSM constitutes the promotion of homosexuality. As examples of “promoting,” you suggest that: “The government pays literally billions to promote marriage by licensing it, paying for medical exams, setting up domestic courts to protect it, and so forth. ” Here, you suggest that the government promotes things by paying for them.  Actually, I paid for my marriage licence and my medical exam when I got married.  Is there a government check I should be expecting?  Also, I am interested in how it is that you see divorce court as something that is designed to protect marriage.  That is to say, I think that your exagerration here on how much marriage costs to the state is not a very strong argument, and one that I doubt there is any evidence for.  For all we know, the marriage industry is a huge revenue booster for the government, not to mention licensing fees. 

    If, following your original premise that the government ought to oppose things which promote sin, and spending money on sinful people constitutes the promotion of their sin, your original premise requires me to oppose lots of things that homosexuals have access to in this society. It turns out that the government does pay for things that homosexuals use, like specific public services like welfare, but they also use things like roads, schools, and other things.  (Of course, we are following your unquestioned assumption that homosexuals are not actually a part of the government and don’t pay taxes, and don’t in fact subsidize heterosexual marriage). If spending money on homosexuals constitutes condoning their sin, doesn’t allowing homosexuals to take advantage of these public services condone their sin?  What about laws that say that employers and landlords have to condone their sin or face punishment by law?  Doesn’t equal protection constitute condoning?  Finally, doesn’t a neutral position suggest that one can argue that the state condones all sorts of things?  For instance, doesn’t the status quo condone non-committed homosexual relationships by denying SSM?  

    I think that Gary offers a stronger argument on how we may imagine that the government “promotes” marriage through giving licenses, rather than trying to calculate a dollar amount to determine whether or not SSM costs the state money and therefore is a promotion of it.  However, the problem with Gary’s argument is that licenses don’t offer any moral evaluation on any particular activity, only its permissibility.  While a license to drive or to serve alcohol might imply that the government “condones” the person who hold’s that license to perform the activity that the license gives them, it by no means implies that the government is “promoting” them, nor does it in anyway imply a moral evaluation.  For instance, no one says: “hey, come to my bar, we are government-promoted!  Check out our liquor license.”  I think that you need to demonstrate philosophically why a license should be interpreted in moral terms at all.

    Further, if we accept the idea that we should oppose the licensing of things that we believe to be sins, then we would have to legally oppose liquor licenses.  (Mark Brown makes this argument in #40) When you respond in #41, you seem to suggest that the only reason that the state makes drugs illegal is on moral grounds, rather than secular ones. I think that assertion requires evidence. I can think of a lot of good reasons to make drugs illegal that don’t require an appeal to the category of “sin” at all.

    Ardis’s example to the contrary, the dispensing of gambling licenses and the government interest in protect and even “endorsing” (the introduction of yet another term) them is for fiscal interests rather than making the claim that gambling is morally equivalent to buying groceries. Nor does it entail the claim that Caeser’s is morally equivalent to Circus Circus. Further, the “endorsing” of the gambling industry is done after the fact of granting lisenses, not in the granting of the license itself. In this analogy, we might have grounds to oppose the government preferring SSM to other forms of marriage, as we would for preferring the gambling industry over the grocery industry, but not in the granting of the license itself.

    Further, in your discussion of prohibition, you offer a set of pragmatic limitations that completely undercut your original assumption that “1) Government ought not promote what is sinful.” Now you only assert that this is true unless there are “countervailing reasons”. On what theological grounds are you permitted to violate this original assumption that we have agreed upon? As a religious person, am I not bound unconditionally to this original premise? Now you have opened the door wide open so that as long as there are “countervailing reasons,” it is perfectly permissible for the government to “condone” or “promote” SSM. You have just killed your own argument because once you allow for exceptions to your original rule, you have failed to offer any further criteria for when it is and when it isn’t acceptable for the government to condone/promote sin.

    Finally, you offer the example of a “seal of approval,” but it doesn’t seem to me that this is what is happening when someone gets a marriage license. The government isn’t approving me to be married, in the sense of having inspected me as a bag of meat. My sexual preferences have not been examined and given a seal of approval. Rather, having a license approves me to be married, but does not approve of me as meeting a basic moral standard.

    The result of this line of inquiry is that your suggestion that religious people evaluate public policy according to the criteria of whether or not it condones or promotes “sin” has failed to offer any guiding principle for making that determination.  In fact, it might lead to exactly the opposite conclusions that you have asserted would follow from such criteria:
    1. According to your criteria, I should support SSM because the government’s policy to lisence any marriage is not actually to condone or to promote, but merely to facilitate.  They way to determine whether or not the government condones or promotes a particular activity is whether they spend money on it.  There is no evidence that the government spends or loses money on marriage, therefore it does not condone or promote any marriage.  Further, the granting of a license does not constitute an implicit or explicit moral approval on the individual, but simply a legal approval.  Therefore, the granting of marriage licenses do not condone the moral value of a marriage.
    2. Also, according to your criteria, I should seek public policies which criminalize homosexual acts, and repeal equal protection for homosexuals because such acts will make it clear homosexual acts and homosexuals are not morally condoned by the state.  Such protections which grant access to government services to homosexuals is evidence that the government condones their sins because they are spending resources on them.

    All this is to say that your criteria are ambiguous, applied selectively, and ultimately incoherent for the religious person since the evaluation of “condoning” or “promoting” is not an easy thing to determine. Further, the “religious” justification for a “neutral” stance with respect to sin is untenable since it collapses entirely the distinction between the church and the state, despite your insistence to the contrary.

    Finally, I would like to suggest that, it turns out, that the whole category of “sin” turns out not to be a religious argument at all, but rather a shabby secular argument in the guise of religion.  By masking itself in the cloak of religion, it demands that there be little to no public scrutiny.  The category of “sin” is simply another term evaluting a supposed public harm. When you claim that “(3) SSM promotes homosexual conduct,” you’ve moved from the realm of the religious to the realm of secular because you have failed to establish how such an argument is “religious.”

    One last point:

    Blake: “Frankly, we are asking all of the wrong questions. What is the compelling reason to promote and protect same sex relationships such that government has a business in setting up the same kinds of protections as marriage? ”

    No, Blake.  This is a second order question, and you are assuming something which is crucial, yet has still gone unargued.  The assumption that you are making is that it is the government’s “business” who marries whom, and that the burden of proof lies on the couple to demonstrate to the government that there is a “compelling reason” why they should be able to be married.  This statist view of marriage is deeply problematic for all of the reasons that I have given in the original post.  When I was married, I did not have to demonstrate to the government a single “compelling reason” why I should be married.  I did not have to prove that I was fertile.  I did not have to prove that I intended to stay married.  I did not have to prove that I was marrying for love instead of money, sex, status, guilt, etc.  There was simply no question that was posed to me to determine if my marriage was in the interests of the state.  The first order question is determining why you believe that SSM should uniquely bear this burden.

    Okay, now I am done with this topic. It takes too much time. I’d be happy to engage arguments that deal with the original post (thanks JNS!).

  • Mark Brown

    Blake, good grief this is frustrating.

    Do you really disagree with the premise that the government ought not promote sin? I doubt it.

    A smart guy like you cannot possible be this obtuse without trying. A Jewish person can think the consumption of pork is sinful and yet still think the govt. has a role to play in regulating and licensing its production and sale. This really isn’t that hard.

    With regards to children, you are simply misinformed. gay couples in Utah and some other states who want to adopt are forbidden to, even if one of the adults is the childs biological parent. Consequently the kids remain in foster care, which I think is a very poor solution. What do you think can be done about that?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mark: “With regards to children, you are simply misinformed. gay couples in Utah and some other states who want to adopt are forbidden to, even if one of the adults is the childs biological parent.”

    Maybe you could pay attention to what I said. You stated that gay couples would have their children taken away. I said that doesn’t happen — and it doesn’t. You now change it to saying that gay couples cannot adopt. You are not just wrong, but misconceive the law altogether. A biological parent doesn’t need to adopt because the parent is already legally the parent and that doesn’t change just because the parent comes out of the closet. It is true that gay couples, qua gay couples, cannot adopt. But a person who is gay can adopt. Frankly Mark, your statement is simply ignorant of how the law works in this area. Before you call me misinformed about something you obviously know little about, you might want to check your “facts” first.

  • gary

    TT: I may be guilty of flogging a dead horse, given your understandable reluctance to get back to the main topic, but I would like to comment on just one narrow issue addressed by you.

    I think that some of the analogies to regulation of alcohol, food etc. are instructive in some respects, but they are inadequate in this context. Marriage under our current laws is a creation of the state–it is an institution that is created by and subject to the laws of the state. I believe that if the state amends the law to permit SSM, it is by that action sending a clear message that homosexual relationships, which have hitherto not been considered as being eligible for that status are now deserving of the same protections and concomitant duties as heterosexual relationships. By that act alone, I believe that the state has approved of relationships that have hitherto been considered by our society to be unacceptable as “marriages”. Therefore, I think it is reasonable for those who regard homosexual relationships to be sinful to argue that this act of the state means that the state is condoning sin.

    That may not be a sufficient reason to oppose SSM. Personally, I don’t believe it is sufficient, because I believe that there are a lot of other issues that must factored into that decision. However, I have trouble believing that the status of homosexual relationships is not somehow elevated as a result of permitting SSM. I believe that most gays also believe that to be the case, and that is precisely why they want the law changed. That may or may not be a good thing, but surely it is not a nothing.

    I don’t understand why anybody would object to individuals taking into consideration their views on the morality of certain actions when deciding what laws they want to their elected representatives to support. Certainly my views on a great many laws are heavily influenced by my moral values.

    I promise to shut up now, except to say that I also found Hudson’s arguments wholly unpersuasive, but I am too lazy and inarticulate to say anything new or interesting on that issue.

  • Mark Brown

    Blake,

    Assume a mother with children divorces their father, gets custody of the kids and becomes a couple with a lesbian partner. They live together for ten years, then the mother dies. The partner has no rights at all to the children, and they would presumably go into foster care. Am I wrong?

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    You haven’t given any reason why the children wouldn’t go to their father. Just because the mother gets primary custody doesn’t automatically mean that the father has no claim on his children!

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: Notwithstanding your verbose response, I fail to see that you have established anything at all. You certainly haven’t established anything like incoherence (a logical contradiction) in the notions of promoting and condoning. However, let’s cut to the chase here since the distinction you attempt to make is moot since gay marriage both condones and promotes gay sexual relationships. To condone is to approve of — and in the sense I am using to approve of as morally the same as heterosexual conduct. To promote is to motivate something to happen or occur — in the sense I am using to motivate certain types of sexual relations.

    I admit that these terms are vague — the ways in which the government can promote and condone are legion and the semantic range of both terms is intentionally broad. However, paying billions of dollars to license and provide legal process to protect such marriage and provide for divorce is both condoning and promoting. Giving tax breaks to motivate new unions and further marriages is promoting such relationships. However, let me say that recognizing something as a basic right so that it will be protected against all other challenges except those that imperil the order of liberty itself is certainly a strong action by the state that both condones and promotes.

    But we need not go where your semantic squabble takes us — missing the forest for the trees. Gays have all of the legal protections and privileges of marriage in civil unions. They gain no new privileges or protections by calling their unions “marriage.” So what is so valuable in a name that they are willing to fire perfectly innocent people and target them for ridicule and economic blackmail if they don’t agree to call this union a “marriage”? What is it they don’t have and what is so important in the name “marriage”? I submit that it is this: they seek a legal determination that their unions are as valuable to society and as morally permissible as heterosexual unions. They want the government to promote both a social value determination and a moral determination. I disagree with that assessment. These unions are not as valuable to society as heterosexual unions because they are not generative of life. They are not morally on par with heterosexual marriage.

    I concede that premise (3) of the argument is weak. I doubt that granting gay marriages will add to more gay sexual relations because gays have not been allowed to marry until just recently in 4 states and I don’t think any of them give a fig about the government’s permission for them to engage in sexual relations. They won’t engage in more or less gay sex as a result. They won’t be less faithful or any more faithful either. But that is to say that marriage isn’t necessary for gay people to realize their sexual satisfaction — it hasn’t been to date. What they are after is social and governmental approval. The bottom line is that they want their sexual relations to not be condemned as sinful. In my view, if the state does that, it violates the establishment clause because the state has no business making such determinations.

    TT: “I think that you make the classical mistake here to conflate homosexual or heterosexual relationships as defined by the sexual encounter, and this leads you to think of marriage in terms exclusively related to sex. Further, as an assumption, it is very well possible that SSM might actually lead to a decline in homosexual sex. Inasmuch as this assumption lies on an empirical claim to the amount of sex that will occur, the moral argument hinges on no evidence at all.”

    Of course I don’t think of marriage being only sex — but in my religion it certainly entails that sex is morally permissible if it is among legally married persons. What more does it add where there are civil unions that grant all rights and privileges of marriage except the name? However, I’m not concerned with merely status as homosexual, but with freely chosen conduct since I believe that such voluntary conduct alone can be morally praiseworthy or blameworthy. Thus, I have focused on what is really at issue — conduct. The fact that I have focused on conduct doesn’t mean that I believe that that is all that there is to marriage relationships. However, at the very least marriage has implications for the permissibility and moral propriety of sexual conduct. E.g, sexual conduct with someone who is married to someone else is adultery and it is morally blameworthy. The state ought to neither condone nor promote such conduct — or do you disagree and argue that we can’t focus on such conduct because there is more to marriage than mere sex? Your argument is rather nonsensical in this sense.

    TT: “The government isn’t approving me to be married, in the sense of having inspected me as a bag of meat. My sexual preferences have not been examined and given a seal of approval. Rather, having a license approves me to be married, but does not approve of me as meeting a basic moral standard.”

    This is a very myopic view of all that society does to protect and promote marriage. Within a religious point of view, your sexual relations are now morally permissible. You are also tested by ther state to see if you will pass on communicable diseases. You are granted a billion dollar infrastructure based on a legal system that will protect your rights. You are granted tax breaks.

    Your sexual preferences have nothing to do with it? Really? BS! What if you are a 64 year old man who can be sexually satisfied only by 13 year olds so you want to marry the 13 year old down the street? How dare the state deprive you of your happiness and sexual fulfillment! What if you love your sister? You see, your view is just too narrow to recognize the broader range of possibilities that you unconsciously exclude. Yes, you must meet a number of legal requirements to marry the person of your choice — and sometimes the state won’t let you do it even if you love that person and could only be sexually satisfied by that person.

    So let’s give the example again that I think will make this clear: Do you believe that the government ought to pass laws that promote adultery by, say, giving tax breaks and licenses to people to approve their adultery? How about tax breaks for the pornography industry? If not, why not? I suggest that it is because you really do accept that government ought neither to condone nor promote what is immoral.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mark: “Assume a mother with children divorces their father, gets custody of the kids and becomes a couple with a lesbian partner. They live together for ten years, then the mother dies. The partner has no rights at all to the children, and they would presumably go into foster care. Am I wrong?”

    Your example is beside the point. The Father will always have a greater legal claim as the natural father of the children. It has nothing to do with whether the “partner” is heterosexual or homosexual.

  • Mark Brown

    Blake,

    Gays have all of the legal protections and privileges of marriage in civil unions.

    In what sense is this statement true, given that you just acknowledged that they cannot adopt?

    Ardis,

    Let’s change the hypothetical then, just to make it clearer. Suppose the father was abusive, or abandoned the family, or was incarcerated, or…There are hundreds, if not thousands of children in the category, just in Utah alone.

  • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis E. Parshall

    Thousands of children in Utah whose fathers were abusive and whose mothers are now living with lesbian partners? I really don’t want to play the hypothetical game, where the givens seem to have little connection to reality. (Some of Blake’s hypotheticals are just as far-fetched.)

    I’m not going to take Blake’s place in your debate, either. I will only repeat that I don’t believe you recognize or are willing to admit the moral authority reflected on an immoral action which is recognized (endorsed, licensed, approved, encouraged, supported, whatever) by the state. That’s really my only dog in this fight.

  • Mark Brown

    Fair enough, Ardis.

    You may be right about my failure to see the same downside you do.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mark: “n what sense is this statement true, given that you just acknowledged that they cannot adopt?”

    In CA they can. In Utah they can’t adopt qua gay, but can adopt qua single person who happens to be gay.

  • gary

    Mark: How is your hypothetical example any different for heterosexual couples? Suppose the bioligical parents are divorced, the children are with the mother who has remarried, and she dies without her new husband having adopted the children. It seems to me they go to the father. If he was unfit, then I suspect the court would make a decision about who is the best guardian of the children. Does it make any difference whether the mother is homosexual or heterosexual in that case? We still must decide what is best for the children but I don’t see how SSM changes that analysis. But I know very little about family law, so maybe I am missing something.

  • Mark Brown

    Gary you are right, the court would make the decision as to who is the best guardian of the children, and the chances are very good that it would be the other partner in the home where the kids have been living happily for the past ten years, especially if the other biological parent is judged to be unfit. But with gay or lesbian couples the other partner is not an option. The kids can’t stay there even if they want to. They would be returned to foster care, and imo that is the worst of all possible outcomes.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mark: You’re just incorrect about that. I have handled several cases where both parents were killed in a common accident. If a family member steps forward and petitions the court for guardianship and/or adoption, then that family member, gay or hetero, will be considered, an evaluation of the best interests of the child or children will be done and the fact of whether the environment is healthy for the child is a consideration. If the family member is hetero but otherwise engages in sex in ways that are unhealthy for children, that will be taken into account just as it would be for gays.

    If there are no family members or long-term caregivers in the child’s life who petition the court for custody of guardianship, then the children will be placed in foster care. Really, you don’t know what you’re talking about on this issue.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake 53,
    You’re right that my 47 may be a wee bit “verbose,” which may account for the reason that you didn’t answer the main points. Allow me to quickly summarize them here, and to refer readers to 47 for the full explanation of the position.

    1. The claim that “(1) the government ought not to promote what is sinful” suffers from a variety of problems.
    a. You have failed to offer a single theological or philosophical reason why this is the case. Inasmuch as you have claimed that such a premise should be accepted as a “religious” argument, you have never offered a single reason why. Personally, I am aware of no Mormon teaching, let alone “religious” reason why I should accept this premise, and you have still not offered one.
    b. You have failed to distinguish this position from theocracy. It just so happens that this is a guiding premise for the Taliban, and you haven’t shown how your position differs.
    c. You have no theoretical basis for distinguishing between different kinds of “promoting” or “condoning” since your premise thinks of these terms in a binary
    d. You have undermined your own argument as soon as you allowed for “countervailing reasons” in which the government CAN promote what is sinful, as in your example of prohibition.
    e. You have failed to explain how your fictional “neutral” ground with respect to sin can possibly exist, such that equal protection laws, the granting of access to welfare and other public services, and indeed the legality of homosexual acts themselves don’t violate your premise.

    (As I was lying in bed last night, I thought of ways that I might argue your case more successfully that you have done up until this point, and I think that I would start with a more robust notion of “sin” in order to give reasons why the state should be involved. You might consider the malum prohibitum/malum in se distinction. This isn’t perfect because in a way it reinforces the religious/secular divide that you are trying to break down because a malum in se can be demonstrated on secular grounds–for instance, pedophilia is a malum in se. At the same time, as Mormons we generally follow this distinction, such that the casual use of alcohol by an adult may be a malum prohibitum, while public intoxication is a malum in se. Hence a Mormon may be justified in opposing laws that limit the casual use of alcohol, but support laws that punish public intoxication. If you wanted to adopt some more nuanced understanding of sin in order to make the case of why the government should be involved, you would have to argue that SSM is a malum in se, while homosexuality is a malum prohibitum. Yet, in order to demonstrate that SSM is a malum in se, you would need recourse to secular arguments, not religious ones.)

    2. The claim “(3) SSM promotes homosexual conduct” suffers from a variety of problems. [I should note that you have moved targets here from saying that the problem with SSM is that it “promotes” homosexual sex to the circular argument that the problem with SSM is that it “promotes” SSM.
    a. You have failed to provide a single compelling reason why the granting of a license should constitute or actually does constitute a moral evaluation with respect to “sin.”
    b. You have failed to even demonstrate this as an empirical claim. For all we know the opposite may be the case.
    c. You have failed to articulate why homosexuals should uniquely bear the burden of a negative moral evaluation with respect to marriage in a way that child abusers, spouse abusers, pornographers, ‘open’ marriages, and Brittney Spears, need not. Doesn’t the government “condone” and “promote” all of these marriages too? Why should the government condone these marriages but uniquely not condone SSM? You privilege the category of “sexuality” in morally evaluating marriages, but have never explained why this category deserves moral scrutiny and not others. Even in the case where spouses in a marriage breaks the law, such as raping the other spouse, the government continues to “condone” this marriage by not dissolving it without the consent of the abused spouse. Thus, the government appears to “condone” marriages in which one spouse rapes the other by allowing this marriage to continue. Given that homosexuals are not breaking the law with respect to how they treat their spouse sexually, why should their marriage not be condoned and the marriage of a rapist should be? I think that the answer to this is that the government’s permission of such an abusive marriage does not constitute a moral evaluation of the marriage, only its legality.
    d. In the examples you give where certain kinds of marriages, like incestuous and pedophiliac relationships (which the state can exclude on secular grounds without recourse to the category of “sin” at all), you rightly note that such couples sexual relationships do not meet the “legal” requirements of marriage (not the moral). Since homosexuality does in fact meet the requirement of a legal sexual relationship, you have failed to explain why such a legal sexual relationship does not qualify for marriage.

    I do want to address one other point which you have raised which I think further undercuts your argument:
    Gays have all of the legal protections and privileges of marriage in civil unions.
    Let us assume that this assertion is true (it is in fact not). On what grounds can you support civil unions and oppose SSM if your original premises hold ((1) the government ought not to promote sin and (3) SSM promotes homosexual conduct)? If civil unions are equally incentivized relative to marriage, how do they not equally promote “homosexual conduct”? Further, if you say that there is a different in the level of condoning, how do we know that, and how do we know that one level of condoning is okay but the other level is not? This example shows why all of the subpoints in my #1 hold, because you have given the religious person no criteria for weighing different levels of condoning and different “countervailing reasons.”

    Do you believe that the government ought to pass laws that promote adultery by, say, giving tax breaks and licenses to people to approve their adultery? How about tax breaks for the pornography industry?

    I can give lots of arguments to these that don’t involve a single reference to “sin,” but these examples are simply not on point. The fact is that the government does give tax breaks to adulterers because by definition in order to commit adultery you must be married. Unless you propose a law that says that marriages are only eligible for the tax deduction in the case where the married partners are faithful to each other, then adulterers qualify for “morally” identical tax benefits as other married people. The same is true for the pornography industry. They can write off business expenses in the exact same way as any other business. They should enjoy no more, nor no less benefits as any other business. For the same reasons, your examples only demonstrate why SSM should enjoy no more or no less than any other “moral” or “immoral” marriage.

    In sum, your argument is bad theology, bad philosophy, and really bad public policy.

    As a final word, I would like to address your chronic comparison of SSM to pedophilia as analogous examples of cases where the government shouldn’t allow certain kinds of relationships. This persistent comparison has ceased being an innocent peccadillo made by an ignorant novice and moved into the realm of offensive. Perhaps you don’t care about being offensive, but I hope that you care to preserve your reputation, and your repeated use of this comparison despite being told that it is offensive is ruining it. I advise that you keep a fork next to your computer, and every time you are tempted to say that the state has an obligation to prohibit SSM for the same reasons as it has obligation to prohibit pedophilia, stab yourself in the leg.

  • Mark Brown

    Blake,

    If a surviving gay partner gets custody of the kids and then finds another partner, the kids are out, even if they have live in that home for ten years.

    If a surviving hetero partner gets custody of the kids and then finds another hetero partner they can be married and there is no problem.

  • Mark Brown

    Blake,

    I’m interested in how you reconcile your position that government licensing = government approval with the position of the church. The LDS newsroom issued a statement last Summer indicating that the church raises no objection to civil unions.

    Civil unions are recognized and made legitimate by the state, with licenses, records, and an accompanying bureaucracy. Is the state then promoting homosexual activity which the church has defined as a sin? If the church raises no objection, is the church promoting sin?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mark, the point of civil unions is precisely that by distinguishing them from marriages, the judgment of moral equivalency is not made. Further, it is all that the state has any authority to do with either hetero or gay couples — civil ceremonies. So it is also more accurate about the limitations of the actual authority of the state. I happen to support civil unions to the extent they don’t damage the interests of the heterosexual family and the sanctity of marriage.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: I am going to break your comments down. I respond to other points as I get the time. I think that your response is rather inane.

    TT: “1. The claim that “(1) the government ought not to promote what is sinful” suffers from a variety of problems. a. You have failed to offer a single theological or philosophical reason why this is the case.”

    Really? How about the notion that sex is sin based on revelation? Is that a theological reason? I take it as intuitively obvious that, certeris paribus, the government ought not promote sin. As long as it is intuitive to you also and you accept the same premise, my argument can then be cogent.

    Do you believe that the government ought to promote or condone pornography and/or adultery? Of course not. Why not? I submit it is because the category of sin is that which is revealed as undesirable to pursue because it won’t ultimately lead to well-being or happiness whether the secular reason can discern it or not. You might get jolleys looking at porno or a moment of pleasure in adultery, but ultimately it is self-destructive. Do I need studies or personal experience with porno and adultery to know that? Of course not — I believe it because it is revealed or strongly implied by revelation.

    TT: “b. You have failed to distinguish this position from theocracy. It just so happens that this is a guiding premise for the Taliban, and you haven’t shown how your position differs.”

    This is just false and assumes as a starting point a definition of theocracy that is flawed. It then trades on the distaste for the Taliban and Islamic style governments in western culture that has nothing to do with my argument and so it is both an ad hominem and a non-sequitur. Theocracy is rule by a religious leader whose authority derives from God. Show me how anything I say leads to that conclusion.

    If by theocracy you mean a government that considers religious principals as guiding its laws, there has never been a culture that didn’t do that. Further, once I recognize that my arguments are cogent only for those who accept the premises and are not secular arguments that ought to be acceptable in court, theocracy isn’t possible within a pluralistic society. Moreover, I’d love you to document the view that “this is the guiding premise for the Taliban.” Sources please?

    Further, the implication of your argument is that any consideration of religion or moral principals that aren’t merely secular is unacceptable because it will lead to theocracy. That is just nonsense. Religious people have every right to consider their moral and religious beliefs in determining the appropriate role of government in their lives. Our laws are based largely on moral and religious principals — many of which are not universally accepted.

    Finally, did you notice the irony that your argument assumes statism?

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    You aren’t answering any of my questions and seem to be missing the big picture here. I am going to answer (again!) the questions that you posed to me but then I am done.

    How about the notion that sex is sin based on revelation? Is that a theological reason? As long as it is intuitive to you also and you accept the same premise, my argument can then be cogent.

    Um, that is a theological reason why sex is a sin. It is not a theological reason why the state should not condone or promote sex. Do you really not see the logical leap here? In fact, it is not intuitive at all because you have no theory of sin and no theory of how and why the state should related to sin. See 1 c, d, e for the problems with such a binary view of condone/not-condone as the options you present for a government.

    Do you believe that the government ought to promote or condone pornography and/or adultery?

    I have answered this already, besides pointing to the immense problems with your conception of what it means to “promote” and “condone” both with respect to these activities, as well as to marriages in general:
    In 62 I said: “I can give lots of arguments to these that don’t involve a single reference to “sin,” but these examples are simply not on point. The fact is that the government does give tax breaks to adulterers because by definition in order to commit adultery you must be married. Unless you propose a law that says that marriages are only eligible for the tax deduction in the case where the married partners are faithful to each other, then adulterers qualify for “morally” identical tax benefits as other married people. The same is true for the pornography industry. They can write off business expenses in the exact same way as any other business. They should enjoy no more, nor no less benefits as any other business. For the same reasons, your examples only demonstrate why SSM should enjoy no more or no less than any other “moral” or “immoral” marriage.”

    Theocracy is rule by a religious leader whose authority derives from God. Show me how anything I say leads to that conclusion.

    When you say “the government ought not to promote sin” you are appealing to God’s authority (sin) as a principle by which the government ought to lead.

    theocracy isn’t possible within a pluralistic society.

    Great. Agreed. So how does your premise “the government ought not to promote sin” deal with pluralism? Unfortunately, you have not offered a theory for how your premise could possibly allow someone to “sin” with the permission of the government.

    The present or past existence of the influence of “religious principles” on government does not prove that “the government ought not to promote sin.”

    [Edit: the implication of your argument is that any consideration of religion or moral principals that aren’t merely secular is unacceptable because it will lead to theocracy.

    I have not suggested that at all. Rather, I have suggested that YOUR formulation of the relationship between "sin" and the state leads to theocracy, and you have failed to offer anything beyond assertions to show how you would allow for me as a Mormon, or any other religious person to possibly accept a law that "condones" sin as justified.]

    Finally, did you notice the irony that your argument assumes statism?
    No, I missed it. Please explain.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Blake,
    I want to apologize for the places where my tone comes across as impatient and annoyed. I really am just super busy right now and am probably trying to rush a conclusion to our discussion too quickly. In general, I am quite proud of our discussions and I hope that we can maintain a higher level of discourse, if you’ll forgive my failings.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    Now I feel guilty. TT, you are a far better person than I.

  • Robert C.

    TT #45,

    Having read your post (but not the comments yet), I really would encourage you to submit this to Square Two. This is, I think, precisely the kind of thoughtful response that I think they are hoping to get (and if not, well then, at least we will have learned something about them…).

    As an aside, I think Ralph Hancock’s arguments are much better and more nuanced than Cassler’s, esp. in his comment #2 under Sherlock’s article in the same issue—so, I would personally like to see these deeper issues he raises addressed more directly (your posts indirectly addresses some but not all of the concerns he raises…).

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Robert,
    Thanks, I appreciate that. Don’t worry about the comments…they have nothing to do with the post!
    My concern is that submitting a piece, even to an online journal, probably requires revealing my identity, and I have no desire to do that.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    The identity thing would very much be an issue, though Hudson did use an alternative name. Plus, FPR is the next best thing to peer-review and Square Two is in many ways as much a blog as it is a “journal.” Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • http://www.approachingjustice.wordpress.com Chris H.

    I have posted some thoughts related to my comments above about public reason at my blog:

    http://approachingjustice.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/a-glimpse-of-public-reason-lincoln-and-rawls/

  • Little Sister

    TT, Thank you for writing this response, I found it very insightful. I agree with you that Dr. Hudson’s argument is flawed because homosexuality must be taken as a given in our society and because such a minority is not so much an existential threat to the existence of equal heterosexual marriage as, say, Britney Spears.
    However, I would warn against making jabs like, “There are numerous sweeping claims along these lines that are simply footnoted, without any specific empirical examples.” The article Dr. Hudson wrote was not intended to be a 100-page treatise that incorporated all available regression analysis results into the text, but it easily could have been. Those footnotes you skimmed over? They represent some of the best feminist research currently being done in the field of international relations. Relatively hollow accusations like “heteronormative” and “gender essentialist” leave way more gaps than Dr. Hudson did.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Little Sister,
    You may be right that Hudson’s argument presupposes familiarity with these works to excuse her from having to cite any specific examples or demonstrate the causal connections she makes so reductively. In the same way, my use of “heteronormative” and “gender essentialist” presupposes familiarity with feminist theory over the last 20 years, since Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble.
    If you’re right that these “evolutionary” based arguments truly “represent some of the best feminist research currently being done in the field of international relations,” then it is clear that IR has not been listening to post-colonial, queer, and Third World feminist critiques leveled against these kinds Western feminist tracts for the last 30 years. For a more recent critique of this kind of international feminism, you might enjoy Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety which dismantles Western feminist categories for analyzing Islam, which is specifically informed by Butlerian feminism.
    While I did not develop this line of argument, instead focusing on Hudson’s definition of “gender equality,” I’d be surprised if the author’s she is citing adopt her restrictive definition, but instead focus on women’s access to social, political, and economic capital outside of the home. So, even if you’re right that these books make their case, I still am not convinced that Hudson’s case is made by citing them.
    My critique of the books she cites is included in the original review: “The books suffer from the characteristic inability of evolutionary theories to explain complex social phenomena by reducing human desires to the fight for survival and the desire to reproduce. Scientists and journalists who advance these theories generally pay little attention to the philosophical literature which has critiqued such views and offered much richer complexity to them, notably the psychoanalytic, sociological, and anthropological discourses that have developed since Darwin.”
    If you disagree with my assessment of these works, I’d be interested in hearing your arguments.

  • Jordan

    “Myself, it just seems like cognitive dissonance to uphold the value of women in the world on the one hand and deny the importance of their contribution to the family unit on the other.”—Proud Daughter of Eve

    Daughter, homosexual couples include those consisting of two women as well as two men. Indeed, lesbian parents are overwhelmingly better studied than families headed by male–male couples.

    Additionally: I do not wish to raise children with a woman. I wish to raise them with another man. The fact that I, a homosexual male, am not well-suited to raising children with a female partner is not a personal reflection upon your suitability as a parent, and certainly not on the qualifications of womanhood in general. I could choose, against my nature and better judgement, to marry a woman; however, I would be a poor substitute for the sort of partner she could (and should) have, as she would be for me. It would be a violence to both of us.

    My mother is a wonderful woman, and so I can affirm happily that women have plenty to contribute to the family. That is why it is better that they do not marry gay men, which does a deep disservice to their talents. If a woman respects herself and her calling to parenthood, she will find herself a far better match. There is no reason to block me from my own calling to love, family and happiness, since doing so cannot materially improve your own.

  • http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com Brad Carmack

    I make some similar criticism’s of Hudson’s “gender apartheid” arguments in my book, “Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective” (https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B1u3K43P-3JoYTUzNjYwMGEtNzNmYi00ODkwLTllMzYtNjRlOTVlMWUwYTM2&hl=en). I have a similar appreciation for Hudson’s level of discourse and scholarly approach.

    An excerpt:

    Interlocutor: “There is simply no other arrangement that can ground every human family in gender equality—companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage (as the essay entitled “Some Things Which Should Not Have Been Forgotten Were Lost ” in this issue terms it) is simply “it.” No gender unequal relationship (even if it is called “marriage”) and no gender apartheid arrangement (with a person of the same sex or with no other person at all) can ground the households of the human family in gender equality. ” Also, “If men and women live separate lives within their society, a hierarchy of men over women—with its attendant slide towards malignant patriarchy–is the inevitable result… the state itself has a vested interest in the creation and promulgation of companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage (G arrangements)—and likewise has a vested interest in the proactive hindrance of evolutionary marriage and gender apartheid. It is only through the widespread existence of companionate heterosexual monogamous marriages that democracy, freedom, prosperity, and other goods such as state peacefulness can continue to have strong root and be sustainable. ”
    My response: Does allowing an African American to another African American frustrate racial equality? Should we instead require that an African American marry a Caucasian, or a Japanese person marry a non-Japanese, to promote racial equality? How about religion- should we mandate Catholic-Jew weddings, and bar the pairing of two Southern Baptists, to promote religious equality? “One must wonder why it is necessary to prohibit same-sex marriage to promote gender equality when it suffices to permit interracial marriage to promote racial equality. ” Allowing different-race marriage doesn’t evidence the state’s preference for or against same-race marriage- apartheid is an inappropriate comparison because apartheid mandates segregation whereas SSM is merely an option. The offensiveness of miscegenation laws is not merely because of privileging one race above another, but that race is simply not an appropriate basis for limiting or granting the privilege of marriage. Gender is inappropriate by the same token. Last, what is the basis for concluding that patriarchy is the inevitable result of SSM? Both men and women have equal rights in such a jurisdiction- what then would found the supremacy of the males? Indeed, traditional marriage has historically promoted gender hierarchy with women receiving the short end of the stick. Might not defense of that traditional hierarchy itself perversely result in fewer women entering the institution? Much of the tradition-based anti-SSM rhetoric is vulnerable to that risk.


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